I am of the opinion that Brett Ratner is underrated. This is not because I find his films very defensible, this is because whereas Brett Ratner is known for being an annoying piece of hot shit, his movies are distracting enough to not merit walking out of.
It’s been four years since Ratner’s directed a film, and I think I’ve dwelled too heavily on this opinion of him – without a new movie to brings his failings to my attention, I spend more time reminiscing on how much I liked Rush Hour 2 when I was 13-years-old, or how Red Dragon was actually a pretty okay minor Saturday-afternoon kind of mystery movie.
But Ratner’s back today with Tower Heist today, an action-comedy that alludes to past Box Office successes he’s had with Money Talks and the Rush Hour movies. You’d think all the experience would have helped him with Tower Heist, but he’s learned nothing. Tower Heist made me laugh a few times, none of which I can recollect as I write this review two days after seeing the movie.
Tower Heist mines the very topical hatred of Ponzi-Schemers, by pitting a crew of dozens that work for Manhattan’s finest luxery tower against penthouse millionaire Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda). Turns out Shaw stole all their pensions but, in typical Wall Street fashion, isn’t going to repay them. What he didn’t count on was a ragtag team of victims (played by Ben Stiller, Casey Affleck, Michael Peña and Gabourey Sidibe) that team up with a life-long criminal (Eddie Murphy) to find Shaw’s hidden Nest Egg in hopes of repaying the rest of the Tower’s staff.
The acting isn’t doing any heavy lifting here. The players range from satisfactory – like Stiller, who’s effortlessly earnest and nothing more, to annoying – Broderick’s lost all the comic ability we all remember so fondly from Ferris Bueller, and Sidibe is frustratingly irritating with a pointless, terrible Jamaican accent. The thankful exception is Alda, whose weirdly affectionate bad guy provides most of what fuel propels this sputtering story.
Many have hoped this film would be a comeback vehicle for Murphy, who despite a string of recent Awful, has managed to hold onto a lot of earned goodwill from decades past. But Murphy’s only playing a supporting role here, and not a role particularly choice for him either. He does little for the film, but there’s little for him to do.
Ratner’s not overworking himself from behind the camera either. He’s always had a passing ability to direct comedy (a skill that mostly involves hiring funny actors and letting them do their thing); but the heist component of Tower Heist is even less skillfully attempted. It’s a by-the-numbers routine here – protagonists vaguely plan the Job over the second act of the film, and then execute it in surprising fashion in the third. But there’s no suspense here – there’s little to root for – and the mechanics of the actual heist do nothing to resemble any possibility. I’m not a stickler for making movies more realistic, but there are too many gaps in the final stretch to ignore.
But despite all the mediocre on display in Tower Heist, nothing ever derails the film. It’s a movie for the masses that will translate to wide appeal, but I can’t help but wonder who in that large audience would take that much of a liking to it.
Then I remember that I really liked Rush Hour 2 when I was in Middle School.